Is Gerrit Cole Already on the Path to Being Another Clayton Kershaw?

Josh Schoch@JoshSchochAnalyst IIIJune 17, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 11:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is welcomed from the bullpen by teammates before the game against the San Francisco Giants on June 11, 2013 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates faced Yasiel Puig and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in a battle between two of the most hyped rookies in the MLB.

However, Cole's sights were not set on the Cuban phenom, but instead on the Dodgers' 25-year-old ace, Clayton Kershaw, whom he will try to best over the next few years.

Kershaw has been masterful once again in the 2013 season, and he is looking to win his second Cy Young award in three years after being snubbed and placing second last year. There's a new crop of talented rookie pitchers who could contend with him for the award over the next few years, though, and Cole headlines the group.

The two pitchers are more similar than you'd think.

Cole is most closely associated with his stellar fastball that approaches 100 mph regularly. His first MLB strikeout came on three straight fastballs, with the last one hitting 99 mph against his first batter. Cole throws his fastball hard and he throws it often, using it 130 times in his first two starts (80.7 percent).

Gerrit Cole in debut: 81 pitches, 65 fastballs. Cole in start No. 2: 80 pitches, 65 fastballs

— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) June 16, 2013

Cole relies heavily on his fastball to get ahead in counts, which is why he is so dangerous.

Cole showed good command of his fastball, using it to get ahead most of the evening. His fastball sat in the mid-to-upper 90s and was still hitting 97-98 in the seventh. He threw 65 fastballs, 13 sliders and three changeups. Cole relied almost exclusively on first pitch-fastballs. The lone exception being a slider to lead off Marco Scutaro in the fifth. He did not throw an offspeed pitch when behind in the count all night.

While it doesn't warrant the spotlight, Kershaw's fastball is very underrated. Kershaw's is the most valuable fastball in the MLB, and he uses it almost as often as Cole does, throwing it 72 percent of the time, according to Fan Graphs.

While he only throws it about 93-94 mph, Kershaw uses his fastball effectively. It has the second-most vertical movement of any big league fastball, according to Fan Graphs.

There is a big difference between these two pitchers when it comes to fastballs, however.

Kershaw likes to throw his fastball early in the count to get ahead, and then he breaks out the curveball that haunts MLB hitters in their sleep.

Cole, on the other hand, throws his fastball to get ahead early and then uses it again to overpower opponents, essentially saying, "Here it is, see if you can hit it."

Kershaw is very similar in his approach, with a lot of his strikeouts coming over the heart of the plate.

What makes Kershaw's approach so special is that both of his pitches are filthy. His fastball doesn't come straight at you, and his curveball makes the best hitters in the game shy away.

Watch Gregor Blanco duck away from this curveball as it lands in the zone for the K.


Now take a closer look at a slow-motion curveball by Kershaw as he makes opponents buckle at the knees.

What makes Kershaw's combination of his fastball and curveball effective is the difference in speed. He takes off a wicked 18.7 mph—the speed dips from 93.1 mph to just 74.4 mph, according to Grantland.

It's tough to see the third-fastest fastball of any lefty starting pitcher and then come back on the next pitch and try to hit Kershaw's nasty breaking balls.

Cole, however, has not yet developed the unhittable breaking ball that he will need to become a Cy Young winner. He only has a solid slider to fool batters with, but he still gets batters to wave at pitches like Kershaw does, with 15.25 percent of his strikes being of the swing-and-miss variety in his first start.

Unfortunately for Cole, throwing one pitch over and over becomes ineffective after a few innings.

Batters can be blown away by his fastball in their first plate appearance, but most will catch up with it by their second at-bat. What's worse is that the third time around usually hurts Cole badly. He gave up his only earned runs in his last inning in his first start, and he gave up three straight hits to chase him in his second.

If Cole can continue to develop his breaking ball and work it into a better punch-out pitch, then he has the potential to become a Cy Young winner himself. Luckily, he still has a lot of time to work on it.

When Kershaw came into the league, he struggled at first. He flew through the minors like Cole did, as they both managed to make it to the MLB in a little over a year, with Kershaw making 44 starts and Cole making 38. Both pitchers also had ERAs under three, with Kershaw's being 2.49 and Cole's at 2.85.

After making minor league hitters look foolish for a while, both guys were called up before the official start of summer.

Unfortunately, both had rough transition periods.

You wouldn't think of Cole as having struggled in the big leagues because he's dominated the game for several innings and has come away with two wins.

Gerrit Cole is now the 1st Pirates pitcher to earn the W in his first 2 Major League starts since Josh Fogg in 2002. #BUCN

— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) June 16, 2013

Just remember. Gerrit Cole is 22 and has two wins against former cy young winners in his first two MLB starts.

— Nick Feraco (@_Feraco) June 16, 2013

Heck, even manager Clint Hurdle was excited to see this kid pitch (although he tried to play it off casually).

However, hitters eventually catch up with his fastball, and then he starts getting hit hard.

Cole's current ERA is 3.75 and his WHIP is 1.17 with just three strikeouts in his first two starts. The fans have been drooling over this kid, but by the end of his starts his numbers are lackluster. Even his two wins in two starts shouldn't overshadow that fact.

Kershaw had similar struggles in the beginning of his career, but he didn't receive the 7.0 runs of support than Cole has received thus far.

His first start was a good one, surrendering two earned runs in six innings. However, he didn't get the win, and he wouldn't get his first until his 10th start. He also was kept on a short leash, not pitching into the seventh inning until his 12th start. He finished his first season with an ERA of 4.26.

Cole has been slightly better to this point, although we only have two games at which to look. He typically starts off well but then wears down as opponents figure him out.

He has more wins and has pitched longer than Kershaw, but he also has only three strikeouts compared to Kershaw's nine in his first two games.

What will really decide how good Cole can become is the next few months.

Kershaw worked tirelessly to improve his fastball and curveball to get them where they are today. Cole already has a great fastball, but his breaking balls have been mediocre. He needs to develop another great pitch.

It's a bit early to start making comparisons like this, but Cole has shown that he has the fastball to get ahead in counts. If he can improve his slider over the next few months, we could have another Clayton Kershaw on our hands.


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